5 min read

How (and why) I meal plan

Happy Wednesday, friends!

I've briefly mentioned our meal planning before, but I thought I'd share a few more details for those of you curious to hear more. As much as I function well with routine, I routinely fall out of habits if I later deem them inconvenient. However, I started meal planning a few months after we got married, and I've been planning ever since. It works for us.

Why I plan meals:

  • For variety: if I plan out a diverse set of meals, we don't end up eating breakfast tacos for supper every night. Plus, it prompts me to remember to buy and eat vegetables.
  • For convenience: I don't need to have the daily what should we eat for supper? conversation with myself. I can look at what I have planned and prepared.
  • We're busy people and I bet you are too. Knowing that I have all the ingredients on hand for a recipe makes us less likely to buy convenience foods, even when it's been a busy day.
  • It prevents over-buying at the grocery store. I just buy for the planned meals plus any staples we need, and I'm less impulsive.
  • If something requires more prep work, I can anticipate time for it. For example, we had homemade bread and lentil soup yesterday. In the morning, I baked the bread and started soaking the lentils.

Our meal-planning system:

  1. Gather supplies. Grab the calendar, a pen or pencil, a blank notepad, any favorite cookbooks*, and your computer/laptop/tablet, etc.
  2. Write out the days of the week in a column for one or two weeks, or the interval of time until your next anticipated trip to the grocery store.
  3. Looking at the calendar, write in any special events (birthdays, anniversaries, guests, or planned suppers out). Indicate days when meal prep time is sparse, or non-existent. For me, I put a star next to every night I work, since I have limited time to prepare supper before work.
  4. Browse the freezer/fridge/pantry for ingredients you already have and want to use up. Let these influence what you make, which will prevent food waste and help keep your grocery bill down.
  5. Then, look for meal inspiration. I usually browse my go-to cookbooks, recipes I've pinned, recipes from some of our favorite food blogs, or family favorites. Don't forget side dishes! Also, now is a good time to ask if your spouse or family has any particular requests. It will be most successful if you're at least somewhat considering everyone's tastes.
  6. On scratch paper, jot down meals you would like to make. I make sure to include some favorite and familiar recipes that are sure to be "winners." New recipes usually = more concentration, more prep time, unfamiliar ingredients or prep methods, potentially costly ingredients you don't have on hand, and an unforeseen outcome. That being said, I love trying new recipes. They introduce new flavors and variety, allow for use of ingredients that are currently in season, plus they make cooking adventurous. However, I usually plan for two or three new recipes in a two week period, in case one (or all) of them flops—it has happened before. Don't forget about your crockpot on particularly busy days! Also, I like to plan at least a few vegetarian meals to keep our meat costs down and to add variety with lighter food.
  7. Assign suppers to each day on the calendar, accounting for busy schedules, and planning for leftovers if a recipe makes a larger quantity. Other considerations: variation (i.e. don't plan two beef-based meals in a row) and perishability of ingredients (plan to use food that doesn't keep as long first).
  8. Make your grocery list, and don't forget what you already have in your pantry/fridge/freezer. Also, account for basics you maybe be almost out of (milk, fruit for snacking, olive/coconut oil, eggs, oats, nut butters, bread, or whatever your staples are). These will be essential for the unplanned meals in-between suppers, like breakfasts or snacks.
  9. Be flexible. If friends want to come over for supper, I can make the meal planned for that night, or swap out a different day's meal. It's your plan, do with it as you like! Sometimes we just need Chipotle, you know?
  10. Post the meal plan in a highly visible spot. I keep mine on the fridge so I don't forget to thaw meat/soak lentils/save eggs for those muffins.

A few favorite cookbooks (above—see details at the bottom of the page). My parents just sent this book (below) as an early anniversary gift. I can't wait to look through it! My mom said she wanted to give us something we'd both benefit from ;)

A few notes:

  • This is simply a way to meal plan that works for us at this stage in life. If you're wanting to meal plan, look around for other suggestions to tailor a system that works for your household.
  • I'm not very good at improvising in the kitchen. I prefer a plan and a little more structure. If the rest of the day is a mess, at least I have everything I need to make supper. However, more freedom-oriented home cooks may prefer a looser and even more adaptable structure.
  • I plan for two weeks at a time, since I'm already in "planning" mode. Also, I do one big grocery store trip every two weeks, and then fill in the gaps with perishables as needed with a quick trip to the store. But if you prefer weekly planning/shopping, just plan for one week, or plan for two and shop for one—it's entirely flexible.
  • The more I meal-plan, the easier it becomes. Also, I save previous plans to reference, especially if we liked the variety or sequence of a week.
  • On breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and desserts: At this time, I primarily only plan for suppers. However, if I want to try a new snack or dessert, I'll plan for that. We often eat leftovers for lunches at work, and if we're both home for lunch, I'll improv. I do routinely buy cheese sticks, nuts, fruit, spinach for salads, tuna, corn chips, etc. for our lunches, in case we don't have leftovers or we want variety. For breakfasts we have a few favorite standbys that we rotate throughout the week**.

*Some of my favorite cookbooks are The Family Flavor, The Newlywed Cookbook, and CookingLight's the Food Lover's Gluten-Free Cookbook. Most everything else I make is improv, or it comes from family recipes or food blogs.

**I'll write a post soon where I mention some of our favorite meals right now

P.S.— Congratulations if you made it through this novel, phew. Happy cooking!


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